Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Clarke so close to rewriting Oz rules

Former Down minor star Martin Clarke is just two matches away from writing his name into Australian Rules football folklore.

The teenager, who was the driving force behind Down's All-Ireland minor triumph last year and played a key role in his St Louis, Kilkeel school team reaching the MacRory Cup final over the past two seasons, could become the first Irishman to win an AFL Premiership in his debut season in 11 days.

Clarke's rise from an international rookie to a first choice senior player for Collingwood after only a few months learning the rules and technical nuances of the oval ball game is nothing short of astounding.

The former An Riocht centre-half forward made the fastest Irish debut in history against Sydney in June and is already one of the first names on the Magpies team-sheet.

Standing between Clarke and a first Grand Final appearance in front of 100,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is a preliminary final against the Premiership favourites Geelong on Friday.

The Geelong Cats lost only four matches in the home and away season, which they turned into a one-horse race with Collingwood 20 points behind in sixth place.

But after last week's extra-time win to eliminate the reigning Premiers - West Coast Eagles - in their own backyard in Perth, Clarke and his team-mates will go into the do-or-die fixture full of confidence.

"It's sudden death on Friday and if we lose it's all over for another year, so we're just concentrating on Geelong before we think about anything else," Clarke told the Belfast Telegraph. "It would be incredible to win a Premiership in my first season at Collingwood but we have to get there first.

"It's all gone really quick since I came over at the end of September (last year) just after the grand final.

"Everyone around the club has helped me settle in and, luckily, it's gone okay, but I'm going to keep working as hard as I can because I've got a lot to learn.

"Whatever happens I'm going home [too Northern Ireland] when the season is over and I'll come back in October for pre-season."

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